The Monterey Jazz Festival emphasizes diversity and inclusion, especially among audiences. | Monterey County NOW Intro

Agata Popęda here with commitments and promises of equality in the world of music. The Monterey Jazz Festival officially pledged its commitment to confronting prejudice and honoring the black roots of jazz music with its first equity statement.

“[Jazz] was created, perpetuated and grounded in black voices and culture,” reads its first statement on diversity, equity and inclusion, a product of 18 months of work at the organization, with input from The Justice Collective, an Oakland-based social impact consultancy. “Jazz has historically shut down female participation. The Monterey Jazz Festival audience is largely white male, due to geography and the fact that black and female audiences have not been cultivated and maintained.

Jazz is a distinctive American art form. “No America, no jazz,” said American jazz drummer Art Blakey, who played at the festival often in the 70s. “I saw people trying to connect it to other countries, for example to Africa, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Africa.”

Founded in 1958, the Monterey Jazz Festival is the oldest jazz festival in the world. Racial and gender equity has been included in the organization’s strategic plans since 2018, shaping the future direction of the festival. “I am proud of the intentional and thoughtful work the entire organization has engaged in over the past year,” said Letty Ledbetter, Chair of the Diversity, Equity and the inclusion of the Monterey Jazz Festival. “The final statement expresses the Monterey Jazz Festival’s commitment to prioritizing DEI directors moving forward.”

The festival ignored female and black audiences, the statement acknowledges. But to remain relevant, these realities must be factored into organizational policies and practices. “As leaders on the ground, to effect change, we will look to these truths,” the statement read. “We affirm our commitment to continue to question our role within this important community of artists, to create innovative and accessible education and music programs that expand who experiences, performs and receives this beautiful music.”

The whole philosophy of jazz is eclecticism, democracy and diversity, and Monterey Jazz Festival organizers believe both the event and the genre derive their strength from diversity and inclusion. The hope is that progressive ideals will soon be visible in all aspects of the organization – its board and staff, its volunteers, its vendors, its artists, its students, its donors and, above all, its participants.

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